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US religious freedom commission creates online database of every known victim of persecution

CHINA'S FLAG WITH BARBED WIRE
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List includes people who have been detained or disappeared for their faith and beliefs.

Chinese Democracy activist Hu Shigen was a founding figure for both the China Free Democratic Party and the China Free Labor Union around the time of the 1989 Democracy Movement. In June 1992, authorities detained Hu, sentencing him in 1994 to 20 years in prison for “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group” and “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.” After 16 years in prison, part of which time he was tortured, he was released in 2008.

In 2015, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, authorities “disappeared” Hu “as part of a larger crackdown on rights lawyers and activists.”

“His family was not made aware of his location or status until January 8, 2016, when they received an arrest notice stating that authorities suspected Hu of ‘subversion of state power,'” the commission said. “On August 3, 2016, Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court tried and convicted Hu of ‘subverting’ state power through his religious activities. Chinese media claimed Hu pled guilty and would not appeal his sentence. The court sentenced him to 7.5 years imprisonment, using a picture of his baptism as evidence of his supposed guilt.”

In November 2016, Hu’s family was allowed to visit him in prison for the first time since his disappearance, the group said. The 63-year-old’s health reportedly has deteriorated, and his family has unsuccessfully applied for his release on medical grounds.

Hu’s story is one of many that the Commission on International Religious Freedom is hoping will become better known. Toward that end, the commission this week launched a public database called Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List. The database stems from the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), as amended by the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016, which requires USCIRF to “make publicly available to the extent practicable, … lists of persons [USCIRF] determines are imprisoned or detained, have disappeared, been placed under house arrest, been tortured, or subjected to forced renunciations of faith for their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy…”

“We are thrilled to debut the FoRB Victims List,” said USCIRF Chairman Tony Perkins at the Oct. 8 launch in Washington. “One of our hopes for this project is to work collaboratively to build and maintain a robust FoRB victims database that increases awareness of the grave plight of victims of religious freedom violations.”

“Together, we can make the FoRB Victims List a central pillar of USCIRF’s engagement with the religious freedom advocacy community,” added USCIRF Vice Chairwoman Gayle Manchin.

IRFA stipulates that the FoRB Victims List include those victims from countries that it recommends for Country of Particular Concern designation and entities that it recommends for Entities of Particular Concern designation. The Commission is focusing first on countries recommended for CPC status, but will eventually also include victims targeted by entities that USCIRF has recommended for EPC status.

FoRB currently lists victims in Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Eritrea, Iran, and Turkmenistan.

The commission cautioned that cases outlined in the database “should be viewed as indicative of the violations practiced by the governments or non-state actors, not as exhaustive or representative lists of total victims or a reflection of worldwide trends.”

USCIRF is also encouraging the public to submit information about victims who should be included.

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